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Why the EDM haters have got it all wrong: Tommie Sunshine

In this exclusive Guest Editorial for inthemix, scene champion Tommie Sunshine takes aim at anyone sounding the death-knell for EDM. The music we love, he argues, is only going up from here.


My mission for 20-plus years has been to turn the whole world onto this music. Right now we’re hearing a lot of people pontificating about the ‘EDM bubble bursting’, while at the same time Armin van Buuren just had a radio hit in America. If you had asked me five years ago if that would ever happen, I’d say, “No. Fucking. Way.” This is literally just the beginning for all of this. You want to know why?

I feel the underground is about to absolutely explode and be the healthiest we’ve seen in about two decades. Everyone in the underground has probably gone hoarse from complaining about EDM. I think that’s kind of run its circle. (I’m sure Sneak will still have something to say about it, but I think anyone with a brain has stopped listening to him at this point.)

Then the music that’s commercial is going to become much more commercial. A couple of the top-tier DJs are now taking on big songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s that are clearly aimed at the American market. The next David Guetta record, which he debuted at Electric Zoo, is based around the opening guitar riff of Ain’t Talkin’ About Love by Van Halen. Now that the kids are all completely indoctrinated, and no one’s got to sell them on the fact that EDM is the place to be, everyone’s got their sights on 30, 40 and 50 year-olds. In America, if you can involve that demographic, you’ve got the whole thing on lockdown.

When an underground scene goes ‘mainstream’, you’re always going to have a few distinct camps. There are the people who want to keep things how they used to be, and then there’s the people who want to push it forward. You also have all these new people coming into the equation, who have no preconceived notions or expectations. They’re showing up to the party because someone told them it was a cool place to hang out. It’s an open door. We – or at least I – want everyone to come to the party.

Personally, after 20 years in this, there’s room for me to play right down the middle. I played EDC and the Main Stage at Ultra, I played with Afrojack on New Year’s Eve, did a tour with Zedd, then went this summer and played two nights on the Terrace at Space in Ibiza. You can bet your arse I didn’t play EDM at Space.

This wave is so far from breaking on the shore, it’s ridiculous. Here’s an example. My lawyer has a kid who is 16 now. For the last four years, he and his buddies have been skating to Datsik, Skrillex and Excision. These kids are two years away from being able to get into a festival, and five years away from being able to get into a nightclub. They’re loving the music, they hear about the festivals, and their anticipation just grows and grows until they’re old enough to actually go.

You’re looking at something that has swooped in and has posed a palpable contest against what has been the Holy Trinity of American music for decades – that is, rock ‘n roll, hip hop and country music. You’re going to see a lot of really bad music as all three of those genres try to integrate electronic music into them. There’s already been a ton of really bad hip hop trying to bridge that gap.

But then there’s this new Katy Perry single that sounds like a 1991 New York house record – people can point their fingers and be like ‘this is super commercial’, but this Katy Perry record is dope. Now it’s the DJs and producers who are bringing the next level to the table in pop music. For instance, Foxes was in the Universal system for a minute and they couldn’t figure out what the fuck to do with her. They put her in Zedd’s hands and you have a number one song in America.

One of the main points that I would love this piece to make is that you have these kids who are as open-minded as possible, at a time when the country is at its most conservative. The best art is made in times of political and social chaos. You want to talk about political and social chaos? Our government shut down for over two weeks. Boom, you’ve got it. It’s here. Of course kids want to find something that takes them on a journey out of everyday life.

I played a gig in Boston recently that was one of my most chaotic, electrifying gigs ever. From the minute I started playing, it was just absolute mayhem until the lights came on. I’m watching it get more and more intense. If you say this music is peaking, or that it has had its moment, it’s absolutely fucking not true. It is just climbing and climbing.

The biggest rub of this in the end is that this is an anti-establishment subculture, and we’ve somehow snuck it under the door and got it into the mainstream. We’ve turned something from leftfield into the zeitgeist. Of course, one of the biggest mountains that we have to climb right now is everybody has this amnesia-moment right now that ‘molly’ is MDMA, when it’s often actually a laundry list of irresponsible shit being sold as MDMA. It’s become a major media talking point. I recently appeared on Katie Couric’s talk show, where the topic was ‘Understanding Molly’. The show is for middle-American housewives at 3pm in the afternoon when their kids are at school. That’s the level this is at now.

You’ll always have people who roll their eyes and say it’s the beginning of the end, but I’ll say it again, this looks like the beginning of the beginning to me. The sky is the limit. There’s no way to even guess how much more massive this is gonna become.

Follow Tommie Sunshine on Twitter. Before the year is out, Tommie will hit our shores to play the Stereosonic festival and appear as a speaker at the 2013 Electronic Music Conference.